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"Supporting cast" vs. "Teammates" and the San Antonio Spurs

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Sometimes good things can come from a simple misunderstanding.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In a Discover Card commercial, the customer and the agent have a telephone conversation.  The customer wants "frog protection", the agent agrees to provide "fraud protection". Hilarity ensues.

That commercial reminds me of a conversation I had at a party.  The other person was describing how relaxing he found Bartok.  Not knowing that Bartok was a composer, I agreed wholeheartedly about how nothing was better than some Bar Talk.  Of course, I was referring to those moments where you have a great conversation with a total stranger while sitting at a bar.  Friday night, while waiting out a flight delay at the airport bar in San Francisco, I had some great Bar Talk.  Bartok was not playing - but the Clippers and Cavs were on the TV - which contributed to the great Bar Talk conversation.

Remarkably, the writing I have done on this blog became part of the Bar Talk.  My Bar Talk companion was a big Lebron fan, but hated how his teammates would defer to him and clear out the entire side so he could do a total ball-stopping one on one attack.  I said that arose from the entire "supporting cast" mindset that began with Michael Jordan - so different than the "teammate" approach favored by the Spurs, as recounted in my "Teammates" piece from the 2013 Finals: 

Teammates

Last night, in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, future hall-of-fame guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 5 baskets in the entire game, and scored a total of 13 points. The Spurs won. Undrafted free agent guard Gary Neal, from mighty Towson State and 3 teams in Europe, and second round draft pick Danny Green, cut by 3 different teams (including the Spurs), combined for 51 points, and 13 for 19 from the three point line.

Michael Jordan was the first star I can remember who referred to his teammates as "my supporting cast". I always thought that the term was fairly derogatory, especially since it included Scottie Pippen, one of the top 50 players ever, and other all-stars such as Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman. One of the many things I like about the Spurs: Neither all-time great Tim Duncan, nor future hall-of-famers Parker and Manu, nor possible best coach ever Greg Popovich, would refer to Neal, Green or the other "non-star" Spurs as the Big Three's "supporting cast". Instead, they are referred to by a much better name: Teammates.

This then led to a discussion of how the "supporting cast" type approach can grow out of the coaching kids receive growing up.  My Bar Talk companion had played football at San Jose State, and then coached youth football for five years, was fascinated by my experience coaching against Gregg Popovich and the long strange trip Pop had taken from Pomona-Pitzer in the 1980s to Best Coach in the Universe status today. 

Because we were in San Francisco, the conversation naturally led to the Warriors.  I told him I appreciated that the Ws were especially easy to root for, not only because of their style of play, so much better now that they have replaced Mark Jackson's isolation heavy offense with a Spursian ball movement style.  But on top of that, the Ws are easy to root for because they are in fact "good guys", much like the Spurs - as recounted in my Thanksgiving Day piece about how, among all the things Spurs fans have to be thankful for is that they too are "good people", as confirmed to me by the great Rudy Tomjanovich at a driving range in West Los Angeles.  

The moral of the story is that if you are ever stuck in an airport because of a flight delay, make the most of it.  Head to a bar where a game is showing.  If an NBA game is on, engage in some great Bar Talk - and if you are lucky enough to be an occasional blogger for the amazing Pounding the Rock, take advantage of that in some great Bar Talk.  If the bar is not showing a game, ask the bartender to put on some Bartok.  I understand it is quite relaxing.

*****

Other random thoughts at the halfway point of the season

1. Return of Kawhi - and there was much rejoicing. People talk about the NBA season "really" beginning once football season is over.  For the Spurs, their season began last night when Kawhi returned.  His return followed the prior return of Splitter and Patty Mills - and meant that we finally get to see how the Spurs will play with the entire cast in place.   I believe Kawhi's absence in the middle of the season last year may have contributed to his freshness in the playoffs last season - the same may be true this year.

And as Michael Erler pointed out in his piece about Kawhi's return in the Blazer game, a large part of the win grew out of the Spurs total dominance on the boards:

"I think that has a lot to do with the group," said Popovich afterward when asked if Leonard's return inspired his team as a whole into dominating the Blazers on the glass to the tune of 15-to-2 on the offensive boards, which allowed the Spurs to get up 20 more shot attempts than Portland.

Put another way, the Blazers' 2 offensive rebounds on 37 missed shots meant they had an incredibly low 5% offensive rebounding rate.  The other side of the coin is that when the Blazers missed, 95% of the time the Spurs got the board and could push the ball right back at the Blazers. 

2. Aging gracefully, or not. Here in Laker-land, we are on the "not" side of the "aging gracefully" arc.  Virtually every Laker article focuses on Kobe Bryant - Will he play? How did he play last night?  Will the Lakers shut him down for the season at some point?  (At which point I ask - to save him for what?)  Compare that to other senior citizens in the league.  Ex-Laker Pau Gasol threw up a 46 point, 18 rebound game last week.  32 year old Mo Williams (who I forgot was in the league) scored 52 points in a game for the Wolves last Tuesday.  On the Spurs, Tim Duncan had his triple double a few weeks back, and continues to dominate the glass and protect the paint.  (Though I wish we would stop posting him up and letting him go one and one - amazing Boris Diaw seems more effective in the one-on-one post moves than TD.)  And finally, my man Manu, at 37 one year older than Kobe, continues to amaze.  Someone with better stat research skills than me should figure out if Manu is having the best season ever for a shooting guard at his age.  Whatever the stats say, it sure feels like it sometimes.  For instance, this game against the Hornets.

3. Lebron: Speaking of aging gracefully, or not, this year for the first time ever, people are asking if Lebron is slowing down.  Of course, he then answers that by two dominating performances in LA this week.  Like Kawhi, taking some time off may have rejuvenated King James.  Of course, like the Spurs, the Cavs are well behind the pace everyone expected.  But unlike the Spurs, who were missing much of their core in the first half, the Cavs have no such excuse.  All those who predicted the Cavs would be 21-20 at the halfway point, raise your hand.  Lebron's attempt to recreate a new and better Big Three hasn't worked - yet.  I continue to compare the Cavs' record to the Spurs since home court advantage in the Finals may depend on it.